Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Second Best Time to Change Your Mind

Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
Isaiah 43:18-19

There is a Chinese proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”

David Gushee, a leading evangelical ethicist, has chosen the second best time to change his mind. Jonathan Merritt, in a column for the Religious News Service, writes that Gushee recently announced that he has changed his mind on issues relating to homosexuality and Christian faith and he is now an advocate for the full inclusion of LGBT Christians within the life of the church.

In an address planned for a training event to be hosted by The Reformation Project on November 6-8, Gushee will declare his change of heart. “I do join your crusade tonight,” According to a draft of the speech obtained by RNS, Gushee will declare that, “I will henceforth oppose any form of discrimination against you. I will seek to stand in solidarity with you who have suffered the lash of countless Christian rejections. I will be your ally in every way I know how to be.”

Gushee is clear that he should have changed his mind sooner, “It took me two decades of service as a married, straight evangelical Christian minister and ethicist to finally get here,” he told the group. And then he apologized for that long delay, saying, “I am truly sorry that it took me so long to come into full solidarity with the Church’s own most oppressed group.”

He identifies four factors that led to his change of heart.

His work on environmental ethics and torture brought him into contact with many gay evangelical Christians who were working on those same issues. Their witness led him to reconsider what he thought the Bible said about homosexuality, and that Bible study convinced him that the Bible did not say what he had thought it said. (For a review of the biblical issues, see my post on Sexual Orientation and the Bible.) Gushee recognized, as many others have, that the Bible has been misused to justify oppression and injustice in the past, on issues like slavery, women’s rights, segregation, anti-Semitism, and torture.

In addition to the witness of gay Christians and his reconsideration of the biblical basis for his position, he had an experience much closer to home. Merritt writes that “in 2008, his younger sister, Katey, came out as a lesbian. She is a Christian, single mother, and had been periodically hospitalized for depression and a suicide attempt.” This convinced Gushee that “traditionalist Christian teaching produces despair in just about every gay or lesbian person who must endure it.”

And finally, he was influenced by the overwhelming body of scientific research which says that sexual orientation is not a choice, it is a natural form of human diversity. All of this led him to begin his theological and ethical reflection from a new starting point: the suffering of LGBT Christians.

Gushee’s defection is important. He is a leading evangelical ethicist. His book, “Kingdom Ethics,” written with the late Glen Stassen, is a staple of courses on evangelical ethics. Gushee has written a book about his journey called “Changing Our Mind: A Call from America’s Leading Evangelical Ethics Scholar for Full Acceptance of LGBT Christians in the Church,” which will be released by David Crumm Media prior to the speech. He hopes that his new book, like his previous work, will become a basic resource for evangelical Christians and that it will provide an opportunity for other Christians to reexamine their views on this issue.

The book, and Gushee’s affirmation of solidarity with LGBT Christians, mark one more step in a long journey. He is not the first evangelical Christian to change his mind on this issue, and he will not be the last. One hopes that United Methodists who continue to exclude and condemn their gay sisters and brothers will pay attention.

Gushee knows that former friends and colleagues will be swift to condemn his epiphany, but he maintains that he does not worry. “I still love Jesus and read the Bible and pray every morning, and I don’t really care what they say,” he said, according to Merritt. “I’m willing to let God and history be my judge.”

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